A legend says that during the second half of the 13th century, somewhere in the middle of nowhere a statue of El Rocio's Virgen was found in the salt marshes. Commanded by madness, the construction of a small chapel in those the salt marshes, began in honor of this vision. It was a far and difficult place to errect a chapel, but the Almontenos knew it well for they had hunted red deer and fished eel. From the end of the 13th century, they had a new reason to be devoted: a vision of the Virgen and a small hermitage. The Virgen was nammed Santa Maria of the Rocinas; shortly after they would change the name of the forest of the Rocinas to El Rocio, "The Dew". During long periods of time, the hermitage and the Virgen were left in solitude, for only hunters, shepherds and travellers sometimes dared to break the silence of the dunes and salt marshes to visit but when the region fell to the hands of the Medina Sidonia Dukes, The Rocio lost part of its isolation and it became a crossroad. Roads were built towards Moguer and shortly after cattle ranches and houses were set up to be the villages origin. Little by little the fame of the Virgen del Rocio grew amongst Almontenos as they made her patronne of Almonte June 29th, 1653. In August, 1813, when the French troops arrived to claim and force Spanish men to battle for them, discussion of refusal degenerated into a French high officer being murdered. French command swore vengence and threatened to burn the village overnight. The people of El Rocio prayed long and hard, all night to their patronne and promised to honor her on the same date every year, if she would spare their lives. Morning came and for some reason the French retired, leaving the site towards other towns to terrorise. The annual pilgrimage that ends in a huge romeria, brings over one million people to this little dirt road town; the silence of the salt marshes will never be again, as 80 brotherhoods and sororities are represented. For a few days around August 18th it becomes the heart of Andalucia.
Next to the Queen's pier in Palos de la Frontera, close to La Rabida, is a monument to the PLus Ultra, name of the hydroplane that made for the first time in history the trip between Europe and America. It left the Calzadilla pier, on the edge of Palos de la Frontera, January 22th 1926. Given by the Argentina's government, the monument represents Icaro and commemorates Atlantic trip across the ocean, from Palos to America. The crew: Commander of Infantry D. Frank Ramon Bahamonde, commander of the Plus Ultra, Lieutenant D. Juan Manuel Duran Gonzalez, pilot of the PLus Ultra, Captain of Artillery, D. Julio Ruiz de Alda, 2º pilot of the hydroplane and mechanical Soldier D. Pablo Ustarroz Road, mechanic.
The Muelle de las Carabelas, "The Caravels pier" invites you to a stroll through Colombus' history. Located a few kilometers from Huelva, the place that served as departure point to the intrepid navigator Christopher Colombus. Colombus' ships were reproduced for the 500th anniversary of America's discovery. The Caravels pier consists in a lobby where different areas of the province of Huelva are represented through attractive images; an audio-visual room, with a capacity of 120 people for whom a interesting recreation projection of Colombus' voyage is offered; a permanent exhibition on the 15th century including key documents of the Colombus project such as navigation instruments, journals, arms, ceramics, carpentry tools, engravings and suits, all allowing a good idea of how life was then; a 15th century pier recreation with large barrels, carts, a well and animals enclosures, idealy inviting to walk and contemplate the ships with a nice perspective and last but not least, the pier itself, a semicircular man-made lake where the ships are located arranged with various figures and elements: the Santa Maria which was one of the galleon destined to carry the heavy loads along with 40 sailors and the Nina and the Pinta smaller vessels that carried 25 men each.
This area has been populated since the Bronze Age. Of the Roman times, only the ruins of a forteress are left. During the 13th century, Sancho II of Portugal conquered it from the Arabs but ended up yielding it to the Order of Santiago. Later, through the treaty of Badajoz, when Alfonso XI accessed to the crown of Castilla, it was again given to the Niebla county. In 1664, Felipe IV was granted the title of the little city. Until 1992, the only way for people and vehicules between Spain and Portugal was the ferry. It was that year that the bridge united both nations as no longer was the ferry needed, nor was it mandatory to pass through Ayamonte's pier to acces Spain from Portugal although, the ferry continues to cross over hundreds of people and cars everyday. Ayamonte counts a little over 17 000 inhabitants and some of Huelva's best known beaches: Isla Christina and Isla Canela are the most famous for a day in the sun, while Punta del Moral is an interesting visit for its Roman Mausoleum. Being separated from Portugal only by the Guadiana river, Ayamonte is ideal for visiting with the Portuguese neighbours of Vilareal de Santo Antonio, shop the streets and markets, have great tapas and enjoy stricking views of the river, the bridge and the Altantic ocean. Ayamontinos' patronne is la Virgen de las Angustias, the Virgin of Angst whom they celebrate with great processions and fiestas around September 6th, 7th and 8th. Many of the town's churches are worth a visit such as Iglesia de Nostra Senora de las Angustias dating the 16th century, Iglesia de San Francisco also dating the 16th century and Iglesia del Convento de la Merced dating the 15th century.
The major attraction of the Mines is touring them abord an old 20th century restaured mining train, a spectacular adventure that allows contemplation of unusual landscapes, while riding a distance of 11 km until "the Friars" station. The restaured train, runs parallel to the Tinto river a world unique ecosystem along the railway line, constructed in 1873 by RED the English company Rio Company Ltd. which sent off minerals from the mines to be transported to Huelva's port. Closed in February of 1984 the mines still offer a touristic train ride which runs regularly during the summer months while the oldest 1875 Spanish steam train is used on special occasions. To be as faithful as possible to the old days, wooden wagon seats were raised and the suspension of the train stayed untouched, jumping and wobbling all the way making it very hard to film or take pictures of the extremely strange landscape. Information abord the train, on history, flora, fauna, unicellular life forms of the river and such, is unfortunatly provided only in Spanish. Running through hills and slopes, woodsy decors and rocky cliffs the strangest feelings of being part of thousands of men's work is worth the ticket.
Visiting the Rio Tinto mines is an unforgettable experience, and is an excellent way to spend a day when touring the countryside around Sevilla or Huelva. Accessed through the Minas de Rio Tinto town, about an hour's drive away from the abovementioned cities, here, we can see what 150 years of intensive extraction of mineral wealth has done to alter the environment in a very dramatic way, in what is known to be the oldest miine in the world.
In ancient times, tales of the wealth to be found in the Iberian peninsula drew the Phoenicians, Romans, Greeks and other invaders to this area, and led to the control of these mines by the succession of rulers. The wealth was so great that it was known to be the fabled King Solomon's mines, and in fact, two towns nearby are to this day named after the biblical king, Zalamea.
It is possible to visit this environment, considered to be one of the most unique in the world, and see the river that bears this name, and the surreal landscape. The Mining Railway Tour goes twice a day for a 1.5 hour trip through this fantastic landscape. The rail carriages are the 100-year old wooden carriages used by the workers in the old times to go travel between their hamlets and towns to the mines.
In my photos are shown some of the views that can be seen, many of them looking like scenes from another planet, with the giant craters, giant slag heaps, yellow hills (the sulphuric content here is the highest in the world), the reddish, yellowish walls, the blood-red river passing in its midst, and the gigantic facilities heavily rusted and abandoned. The abandoned towns, and facilities look like scenes from Star Wars or a dystopian movie.
At the end of the trip, visitors can spend 15 minutes down by the blood-red river, but should be careful not to touch the water, as with such high mineral content and low ph, this water is toxic. No ordinary animals live in it. However, some micro-organisms have been found by scientists which are able to survive in such an extreme environment. Because of this, and the features of this ecosystem, NASA and the Spanish Astrobiology Research center are studying all this as part of the exploration of subsurface life in Mars.
Reservations should be made beforehand -- the website has an email address through which reservations can be made. The tour is in Spanish but detailed translations in English are given out in leaflets. Tickets should be picked up in the Mining Museum in the town Minas de Rio Tinto.
There is also the Mining Museum which is fascinating, and a well-stocked museum shop. The access to the mines themselves is 5 kilometers away.
Also, make a short visit to the Barrio Ingles, the village for the officials of the company. It is a typical English village (the mines were British owned), with the houses built in that style, with a club, a bar, and a chapel. Casa 21 or House no. 21 which is right up the parking area just off the road used to be the house for the head of the company's operations. It is now a museum and can be visited.
Close to La Rábida monastery, on the Río Tinto estuary, is the the Muelle de las Carabelas. This is a museum and exhibition dedicated to Columbus's voyage to the New World, complete with life-size replicas of Columbus's three ships, The Niña, The Pinta and The Santa María. The three reproduction of the ships were built in 1992 especially for the 500th anniversary celebrations of Columbus's voyage of discovery to the New World. The outdoor exhibition also has a reproduction of the village of Palos de la Frontera where Columbus set sail from. The three ships are moored on an artificial lake and on the far side of the lake is a representation of the land of the Americas with models of Native American huts and people.
There is also a museum detailing various aspects of Columbus's life along with audio-visual presentations.
Huelva's main claim to fame centres around Christopher Columbus who sailed from just outside Huleva on his voyage of dicovery. So it is not surprising to find a huge stone monument of Christopher Columbus (Monumento a Colón) situated at the Punta de Sebo, near to the confluence of the Odiel and Tinto rivers. The monument symbolically faces west towards America.
The monument was inaugurated in 1929 and was designed by the American Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney and was constructed between 1928-1929.
The La Rábida Monastery also boasts beautiful botanical gardens leading from the carpark up to the main monastery building. The gardens contain some beautiful and unusual species of plants and shrubs. There is also a monument dedicated to Columbus in the garden. The monument is a statue of Columbus.
La Rábida Franciscan Monastery, or to give it it's full title, 'Monasterio de Santa María de la Rábida', lies approx. 10 km outside Huelva.
Columbus spent time at the monsatery between the years 1491 and 1492 while waiting waiting for financial backing from King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, for his voyage of exploration to the New World. The monastery was constructed in 1412 but was severly damaged by the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. After years of neglect the monastery was restored and reopened in 1856.
THe monstery has strong Moorish influences in design, most notably it's Mudéjar styled cloister. The word 'rábida' is actually an arabic word meaning fortress and therefore is no surprise to discover that the monastery was built on the site of a former moorish monastery.
on the site of a Moorish stronghold; 'rábida' is a Arabic word meaning fortress.
The oldest data of the first human groups noted in Jabugo are possibly the Neolitic ones seen in the Moorish cave, found on the dirt road between Jabugo and Galaroza. The history of Jabugo was united to Almonaster's until the 12th century, when Don Luis Marquez de Avellaneda granted Jabugo its consent for independence. In 1691, Carlos II granted it its own jurisdiction. Seemingly, the 18th century was a significant time for the town as the works of San Miguel began, constituting in a certain way the sign of an economic euphoria. Carriers, craftsmen, ecclesiastics, are some of the professions that gave life to Jabugo in those years. Known today for its production of chesnuts, acorn, oil and famous ham, Jabugo is thought to be shorthand for Jamon Iberico, by most of the population; it is the best place to buy and taste the notorious cured ham. Jabuguenos line in a very small 25km2 town of less than 3000 inhabitants and their patrons are Saint Michael Archangel and la Virgen de los Remedios, respectively celebrated on September 29th and on the 2nd sunday of June.
The city of Aracena has been formed as a tourist enclave within the mountain set, thanks to the formation, most of the times by local initiatives. A complex introduced by the Museum of Contemporary Art; the Church of the Castle declared joint historical-artistic monument in 1931, the instalations of a geologic-mining museum in the reception building of the grutas de las Maravillias as well as the caves themselves are the commercial nucleus articulated around Aracena's town along with the ceramics, hotels and shops bordering its streets. In the flyer received when you buy a ticket for the Gruta de las Maravillas in Aracena you can read the following text: "This beautiful cave, the biggest and the most wonderful in the world, is located in the bowels of the hill on which the Castle Church is built and where the ruins of the old fortress can be found. The beauty of its lakes, the spaciousness of its chambers and the marvelous colours of its wide variety of stalactites and stalagmites, form in its entirety something almost impossible to surpass. Water has written a poem through the centuries' silence and slowlyness." Nothing indeed needs to be added to this, for it is one of the most beautiful caves in the world... I say one of, because next to Padirac's cave in Dordogne, France, I'm not sure who wins first prize. But one thing is for sure, the cave of Wonders' exceptional set of galleries, underground halls, lakes and courses are simply amazing to visit. The grotto is not only filled with optical effects, but of acoustic ones as well, acting as the percussions of the imagination it is source of metaphors: organs tubes circle a great turtle, diamonds and water dripping imitates the song of quails, later on the Choir, the Twins, the Tomb, the Emeralds lake adorned by stone waterlillies and the hall of the Naked all become musical imaginary landscapes.
Of course andalucia being the land of horses, it is possible to ride horses just about anywhere. But those beautiful horses also being some of the most prestigious in the world, riding them often doesn't come cheap. The least expensive ranches are often found in the country and one of the best one happens to be in Galaroza, near Aracena. Julio Cesar Tristancho the stall man will take good care of all adults and children's needs for a marvelous time riding in the mountains of the Sierra de Aracena. The horses are extremely well behaved and can be ridden by all kinds of riders from the first time rider to the very experienced one. The people at Picadero La Suerte, the Lucky Ranch, will arrange strolls of 1 to 3 hours for groups parties of 5 people minimum, anytime of the week. Even for loners, Julio will make space in a planned stroll... so make sure to call, ask and reserve. The ranch is filled with other animals too, from the many dogs and their pups are also cats, ducks, chikens, geese and donkeys... children will have a bal in the middle of spanish country.
The first establishments that gave birth to this population is explaned by advantaging reserves of the mineral, because of which from the oldest times the town has been one of miners. Its tartesic period benefitted to Phoenician retailers while during the Roman era, wide operations took place on its territory so that the mineral ressourcere was taken advantage of, to the maximum, thus being considered the most outstanding era of all for Minas del Rio Tinto. The land was royal property from 1849, until it was sold to the "River Tinto Co.Ltd" in 1873. The most optimal page of history for the mining of Rio Tinto began with the creation of a new urban town for the great amount of manual labor that was generated, housed in El Campillo and Atalaya. During the dictatorship of Franco, the mines were nationalized and since the same minning companies have openned a newer recent page of history with the mines' change of course. Minas del Rio Tinto is still today a very small town of 24km2 inhabited by a little less than 5000 people. Mineros are proud of their small working town which is also home to a Roman Necropolis called La Dehesa "the Meadow", dating the 1st and 2nd century and a neighbourhood of victorian houses called Barrio de Bella Vista build for the English personel of the minning companies. On hot summer days Minas del Rio Tinto seems like a gost town, dry and dusty with not much to do nor anyone to meet.
La Rabida is an established Franciscain monastery right over the Odiel river, in an old Muslim industrial construction. Arabic, "Rabida" means "watchtower"; originaly, this place was a Muslim fortress, but in 1412, Pope Benoît XIII allowed the Franciscans to occupy the building thus, founding a monastery in its place. It is in this monastery that Colombus with the Franciscan brothers, Juan Perez and Antonio Marchena, prepared his voyage towards the discovery of America. Overall, this place underwent many sudden misadventures. In 1755, it was damaged by the November 1st seism which destroyed Lisbon. It was then plundered by the French troops during the 19th century war of Independence. In 1828, the American writer, Washington Irving, came to visit after the publication of the Navarette's work on Colombus. He loudly deplored its state of abandonment and dilapidation, so in 1834, the monastery was put on sale, but no bidder ever came forward, to a point where it was almost demolished. But the Dukes of Montpensier, informed of the situation and historical value of the building, took part in its restoration. They contributed to the Spanish classification of the site, in 1856, as a historic building. It is right to recognize that it is partly thanks to the action of Washington Irving and his notoriety that this place left its state of quasi ruin to a great 1892 commemoration restauration. Regrettably, even if only a few kilometers away from the National park of Donana classified as World Heritage by Unesco under the pretext that it is a natural reserve of more than 500 000 birds; the monastery of La Rabida is not the subject of any world classification, it is only classified as a National monument by the Spanish State. However, it is in La Rabida that Christopher Colombus developped the plan of his voyage which made it possible for the whole world to take note of the unknown continent now called America; Man is sometimes a funny bird!